There are times during the year when we binge on watching videos that hikers have made of their adventures on long distance trails. Usually this corresponds with the time of the year that we are starting to think of all the trail options for our summer and fall of hiking. We always feel inspired by the beauty of the trails and the positive community of hikers evident on the videos. Lately, we have been toying around with the idea of trying to capture our upcoming hikes in a video format (in addition to continuing with our online journal), so we have been watching trail videos this spring from a new perspective.
Some of our favorite trail videos have come from John Z when he hiked the Continental Divide Trail and the Appalachian Trail in 2015. While he still has some episodes to complete for the CDT, and the AT video is only an overview video so far, his style and personality make his videos really engaging. We decided to reach out to John to learn more about his process and inspiration for making videos while hiking long distance trails.
What gear makes up your on-trail video gear (camera, storage, charging, tripod, mounts, etc)?
I currently use the original Sony RX100. Been using a wind muff on it lately to reduce wind noise. 64gb SD card. Internal charging. No tripod.
Any special protection for your camera?
I usually put it in a ziplock bag, sometimes two if there is prolonged rain.
What setup do you have for processing your video (Computer, Editing Software)?
Macbook Pro with Final Cut Pro X.
Do you find that capturing footage on the trail consumes much time?
It’s not that big of a deal, really. I don’t use the camera in manual mode; I just set the aperture and do exposure compensation when needed. My strategy is to just take a lot of footage rather than to spend too much time on any particular shot. I keep my camera handy at all times so that I’m ready to shoot at a moment’s notice. My style is to capture my life on trail so I do not go too far out of my way to do “video things” very often.
How much footage are you capturing per minute of final product (on average)?
Each of my episodes starts with 1.5 to 3 hours of footage and I cut that down to about 8 minutes. It really comes down to telling the story.
Have other hikers or locals been put off when you are capturing footage on the trail?
I don’t think so? I do not take video around people that I have recently met. It takes me a while to build up to that because I think it would detract from my experience. When I do take video of other people I usually just casually hold my camera by my body without even really thinking about it once it is recording. Sometimes someone will notice my camera there and ask me if I’m taking video and I often will have half-forgotten that I’m taking video at that point and ask them if that is okay.
Are there certain staple shots (scenes or type of footage) that you like to get regularly?
I like big views a lot, so my favorite shot is some big landscape with a person hiking through it. I have spent most of my time hiking solo for extended periods of time, if I’m lucky there will be a rock or something that I can put my camera on that I can use to walk in front of the camera without getting too much ground in the shot. I typically don’t do too many closeups of things along the trail, but I will be focusing on capturing more of those because there are so many lovely details that really give all these places their unique feel.
Where do you get the music for the videos you produce?
All the music I use was made either by friends or myself. It helps spread the love and keeps things legal while giving my videos a bit of a unique feel. A good way to get music for videos is to ask smaller artists who are looking for exposure and just ask them before you do it. They’ll probably be really excited about it, possibly even sharing your video with their audience.
Have you recorded video on all long distance hikes you have done? If not, what spurred you to start recording video on the trail?
I have recorded video on all my long distance hikes. I had done a lot of bicycle touring before I started hiking and I would just take photos and write in a journal. The switch was simply the advancing camera technology. I wanted a lighter camera for the PCT and by late 2011 most cameras could capture HD video. I thought I might want to take a few videos but still mostly took photos throughout that trip. Looking at my photos and video afterwards, I felt that the video captured the moments so much better than photos ever did so I made video my priority this past year on the CDT and AT.
Were you into making videos before you started shooting videos on the trail?
I have made videos for much of my life. My parents let my sister and I use their VHS camcorder when we were kids so we would take that around the house or set it up on a tripod in the garage, roller blading around singing Backstreet Boys. That evolved into getting my own camcorder in middle school and making videos with friends and then that turned into making the cross country team videos for a couple years and even doing a few weddings in high school. My friends and I started a film festival at our high school. I was really into it. I made a short-lived public access show in early college and then I completely abandoned video and sold my expensive camcorder when I decided to focus on music and biking. And now I’m in love with video again.
Was there a particular book, video series or course that was especially helpful to you in learning to edit video?
I started editing video in late middle school and it came pretty naturally, never consulted anything for help in doing it. Video editing and music production software is very similar so I have put in a lot of hours on both by now. I think the best way to learn things is by doing. Figuring things out on your own gives you your own style.
What motivates you to spend the hours necessary to edit your video once you are back home?
The initial inspiration to edit my videos was simply to make something that I could easily watch to remember and relive some moments on the trail. Nowadays there are some other people who watch my videos and it is fun to be able to share my experiences and potentially inspire others.
You seem very comfortable in front of your camera…was that a process for you, or has that always been the case?
I think a lot of fear in front of cameras comes from the idea of being misrepresented. My camera is my diary so I have no reason to be reserved. I am also very confident when I’m on trail. When I am on trail I live intentionally with focus and purpose and pride. Lately I’ve been trying to make some FAQ videos where I am just sitting and talking to the camera at home and I have been sooooo uncomfortable. But I just keep doing it over and over again and each time it is less bad.
If you are uncomfortable with something just embrace the discomfort and go for it and you’ll be better off as a result.
Do you hike much outside of long distance trails?
Some. Long trips are totally different than short ones and I love the feeling and headspace in a long trip. But I make an effort to spend time every day walking outside.
What is your favorite way to relax?
Going on a walk or run.
Favorite Trail Town (any trail)?
Lake City is a great town. Very friendly people with a hostel across the street from a small but complete grocery store and then an amazing bakery at the edge of town. But there was a difficult hitch to get into town, and I tend to prefer trail towns like Anaconda. Walked right through it, got some fruit and yogurt at the grocery store on the western end of town, got a new shirt for 50 cents, went to the library, got a slice of pizza, got my resupply at the grocery store at the eastern end of town, repackaged the food at the park across the street, kept walking on out of town. I do not thru hike to hang out in town and stay in hotels, I’m out there to hike and be outside and that’s what I do. So my qualifications for a good trail town is based on getting some fresh food and a cheap resupply and some internet and getting back out on trail as fast as possible.